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MLS downtown stadium plan

A bird's eye view of a potential Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis designed by HOK that circulated in 2016. A new plan backed by the Taylor family of Enterprise would use the same potential stadium site. Image courtesy of HOK

ST. LOUIS • The first wrinkle has arisen in the effort to land a Major League Soccer team here: A group of St. Louis aldermen, eyeing the tens of millions of dollars spent to redo city-owned sports facilities in recent years, is pushing the soccer team partners to own their proposed stadium — and its future expenses.

“We’ve been burned a couple of times before,” said Alderman Christine Ingrassia, who represents the city’s 6th ward, including the Market Street stadium site. “I think they should own it.”

On Friday, Board President Lewis Reed introduced to the full board his resolution outlining stadium tax incentives. It includes a full exemption on construction materials, free use of the state-owned land just west of Union Station on Market, a 50 percent break on ticket taxes, and the addition of a 3 percent sales tax on goods sold at the stadium.

It also recommends funneling the other half of the ticket tax into a city fund to support future stadium improvements.

Representatives for the ownership group — World Wide Technology chief executive Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ingrassia is worried the stadium improvement fund won’t have nearly enough money to cover upkeep and improvements. This week, she wrote a resolution that largely paralleled Reed’s, except it included a line identifying the team owners as owners of the stadium, too.

Ingrassia and others think a city-owned stadium could leave the board holding the bills if it needs new scoreboards, escalators or restaurants 10 or 20 years from now. Almost two years ago, the board approved a $64 million plan to upgrade what is now Enterprise Center, where the St. Louis Blues play hockey, after team owners argued they could no longer land extra events such as basketball tournaments and music concerts. And just last month, downtown convention center leaders presented a $175 million expansion plan they said was necessary to compete for big conventions — in part because upgrading the adjoining football stadium, which the Los Angeles Rams abandoned almost three years ago, has proved too expensive to tackle immediately.

Ingrassia said six or eight aldermen have expressed similar concerns.

Megan Green, a Tower Grove South alderman and candidate for board president next year, said that she appreciated the ownership’s large cash commitment but that the current resolution wasn’t good enough.

“The city should not be in the business of owning stadiums,” Green said. “We have shown time and time again that it has not worked out for taxpayers.”

Ingrassia ended up pulling her resolution off of the agenda Friday morning before it could be read to the board. She said Reed accused her of trying to sink the soccer stadium effort.

But she also acknowledged that she had an outstanding dispute with one of the Enterprise companies, for about $3,000, after renting a car for a conference and being charged for damages she says she didn’t cause.

Reed’s chief of staff, Tom Shepard, said that dispute amounted to a conflict of interest and should have kept her from getting involved.

“She should know better,” Shepard said. “No one in the president’s office even spoke to her about her resolution. At all.”

Besides, he said, the city has every intention to ensure team owners will cover all maintenance and repairs during their lease. “This resolution is a first step towards a great opportunity for our city, with the jobs and economic impact it will bring,” Shepard said.

Reed’s resolution will move to the board’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee, chaired by Alderman Joe Roddy, in coming weeks.

Ingrassia said she would shift her efforts to the committee and continue working there to persuade aldermen that the city needs a more robust plan for stadium improvements.

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